12 January 1729: Edmund Burke, one of the foremost political thinkers of 18th century, was born in Dublin on this day. He was also Anglo-Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after relocating to England, served for many years in the British House of Commons as a member of the Whig party.
Burke was born in Dublin to a prosperous, professional solicitor father (Richard; d. 1761) who was a member of the Church of Ireland. His mother Mary (c. 1702–1770), whose maiden name was Nagle, belonged to the Catholic Church and came from an impoverished but genteel Cork family. Burke was raised in his father's faith and would remain throughout his life a practising Anglican, unlike his sister Juliana who was brought up as and remained a Roman Catholic. His political enemies would later repeatedly accuse him of harbouring secret Catholic sympathies at a time when membership of the Catholic church would have disqualified him from public office. Once an MP, Burke was required to take the oath of allegiance and abjuration, the oath of supremacy, and declare against transubstantiation. Although never denying his Irishness, Burke often described himself as "an Englishman".
He spent the bulk of his life in England and became active in Politics, opposing Britain’s policy on the Revolt of the American Colonies and at the end of his life the British policy towards Ireland. He never totally adopted any political philosophy but overall he could be said to represent a conservative liberalism that eschewed extremes. His most famous work was Reflections on the Revolution in France which was a best seller, and in it he warned against the dangers of excess in political affairs especially as events unfolded in France in the wake of the start of the French Revolution.
He basically wanted the State to play but a limited role in the personal affairs of men and allow as much individual freedom of thought and action that was commensurate with the Social Order.
‘That the State ought to confine itself to what regards the State, or the creatures of the State, namely, the exterior establishment of its religion; its magistracy; its revenue; its military force by sea and land; the corporations that owe their existence to its fiat; in a word, to every thing that is truly and properly public, to the public peace, to the public safety, to the public order, to the public prosperity.’
"All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter."
'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.'
While hard to sum up such an active career over many decades a pithy summary of what he stood for might well be:
His soul revolted against tyranny, whether it appeared in the aspect of a domineering Monarch and a corrupt Court and Parliamentary system, or whether, mouthing the watch-words of a non-existent liberty, it towered up against him in the dictation of a brutal mob and wicked sect.
Burke died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on 9 July 1797, five days before the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille which marked the official start of the Revolution he so long predicted and fought against. He was buried in Beaconsfield alongside his son and brother. His wife survived him by nearly fifteen years.